Does “High” THC Get You Higher?

Over the past 70 years, the marijuana landscape has seen significant changes. Before the late 1960s, most were only familiar with landrace strains, and concepts like 'Indica' and 'Sativa', or seedless (sensimilla) buds were almost unheard of.
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Over the last 70 years, marijuana has significantly evolved from its humble beginnings. Initially dominated by landrace strains with THC levels rarely above 10%, today’s cannabis landscape includes powerful hybrid strains like GG#4, boasting THC levels around 20% or even higher. This shift highlights the remarkable increase in potency that modern ‘high-grade’ weed has achieved over time.

Head in the clouds

Does higher THC equal a higher high? Yes, in general, high THC strains (and cannabis products) offer a heavier dose of psychotropic fun – but there’s a little more to the equation than just the THC content…

Weed is changing and has been for a good 70-odd years. Before the late 1960s, it was landrace galore, and very few folks had even heard of ‘Indica’ or ‘Sativa’ or seen seedless (sensimilla) bud. Cannabis strains offering THC levels above even 10% were unheard of, and ‘high-grade’ buds were not what we know them to be today.

But thanks to the dedication of breeders here in the USA and those across the pond, we now have an utterly ridiculous number of cultivars able to push out plus 25% THC (or higher), extracts that often tip the 90% THC mark, and edibles so strong you only need one gummy to send you into orbit.

But is it the THC content that’s actually getting you so ridiculously high, or is something else going on?

What Is THC?

Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short, is a phytocannabinoid produced in the trichomes – those frosty crystals that cover the marijuana flowers and sugar leaves. CBD and THC are the two ‘major’ cannabinoids served up in most bud options, but there are more than 110 ‘minor’ cannabinoids that researchers have so far isolated.

THC is the main reason weed consumption is psychoactive. It binds with the endocannabinoid CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and, in doing so, sets off a series of mind-altering events.

What Does a Percentage of THC Measure Indicate?

The THC percentage indicates the total percentage of THC in a strain or product, weight for weight. So, if you have a nicely trimmed 1-gram nug boasting a THC content of 25%, then that bud has around 0.25 grams (250 milligrams) of its weight in THC.

THC Levels Over Time: A Rising Trend

There are simply no two ways about it: weed is not what it once was.

When breeders first started getting their dirt-covered little paws on landrace strains from around the world, they were working with plants that had evolved and adapted to grow in their natural environments. What we today call ‘high levels of THC’ just didn’t happen naturally.

These strains usually contained less than 5% THC, but the almost exponential upward shift in potency really began with the arrival of hybrid strains (a mix of Indica and Sativa genetics) like Skunk #1, Northern Lights, Super Silver Haze – the list goes on.

In the last decade or so, things have really taken off. Gorilla Glue #4 was the first ‘direct to the public’ offering with the potential to tip the 30% THC range, and now, it seems like every other week, someone is coming out with a new strain claiming to offer an even higher THC content.

What Is the Average THC Content of Cannabis?

Very hard to say, but 15% seems like a fair number in the modern weed scene. 

Just because the marketing surrounding a strain says it will grow into a 32% THC beast doesn’t mean it actually will. There are phenotype variations to take into account, as well as how different growth methods affect the final THC content of a bud and how it has been handled post-harvest.

Terpenes and the Entourage Effect

Now, we mentioned in the intro that the potency of a particular strain is heavily influenced by the THC content – but that there is a little more to it…

Potency can mean more than just the THC content. Strains can also be potent medical options, and this is where the ‘entourage effect’ comes into play.

What is the entourage effect?

The entourage effect is a widely accepted theory stating that cannabinoids, terpenes (the aromatic compounds), and flavonoids – all chemical compounds produced in the trichomes – work together synergistically to enhance overall therapeutic effects, resulting in “more than the sum of the parts”.

This means that if you were to consume a high THC strain without the presence of other cannabinoids and terpenes, you may not experience as significant or well-rounded set of effects. This is usually more focused on the potential therapeutic effects that weed offers, but is also applicable to the psychoactivity of a strain or product.

THC’s Role In the Potency of Your Weed

From an intoxication standpoint, THC is the main driving factor to consider. The higher the THC percentage, the more likely you are to be absolutely rocked by it.

What Is Considered a High Amount of THC in Weed?

These days, any cultivar that has the potential to grow 20% plus THC is considered to be high in THC. But if you are just starting down the green road, you may want to begin with something a little lighter in THC – 10 to 15% strains may be more to your liking.

Spotlight on High-THC Strains

We mentioned GG#4 a little further up, but this strain really was a game-changer in the new-school market. Not only does it offer home growers the chance of bagging a bunch of banging, 30% THC buds, its terpene profile set a trend that is still very much followed today.

Bruce Banner, Permanent Marker, and some of the Gelato and Runtz offshoots regularly head north of the 30% mark, and with the way strains are trending, we expect to see the 35% THC region crossed regularly and very soon.

What Affects Marijuana Flower Potency?

There are a bunch of factors that go into how potent a specific bud will actually be, no matter what the seed breeding companies are saying.

  • Hydro or soil – Hydroponics can’t be beaten for boosting the THC to its peak. Organic, living soil is great and will produce very potent effects when done right, but hydro is king.

  • Lighting – HID options were the ‘gold-standard’ for indoor weed growers up until a few short years ago, but LED tech has recently overtaken. Either way, these are the only two options for serious growers.

  • Post-harvest handling – To get the best out of your weed, you need to know how to dry and cure it. Professional growers have this down pat, which is part of why bud bought in a dispensary is often stronger than what you can grow at home

  • Environmental control – From precise humidity and temperature control to delivering the right CO2 levels, this is where indoor weed growers stand above their outdoor counterparts.

  • PERSONAL TOLERANCE LEVEL – This one is capitalized for a reason, as it is super important but too often overlooked. Your personal tolerance to cannabinoids, especially THC, makes a dramatic difference in how you perceive the potency of a strain.

Exploring THC Concentrates

The wonderful world of weed concentrates and extracts is where THC levels can go from the sublime to the almost ridiculous.

Rosin, Shatter, Hash, BHO (Butane Hash Oil), Wax, THC Diamonds – the list grows each year. They all have one thing in common, though. The above 90% THC content they usually contain.

Concentrates are split into two main categories – solvent-based and solventless.

Solvent-based cannabis concentrates use chemicals like butane, ethanol, or CO2 to strip the THC containing trichomes from the plant material, while solventless concentrates use heat and pressure to do the trick. 

Most medical cannabis oil options are made from a CO2 super-critical extraction process, as it is the cleanest and most efficient. Recreationally targeted extracts like BHO and Rosin are the domain of seasoned cannasseurs, and are cheaper to produce than CO2 extracts. Dip your toes lightly if your tolerance hasn’t yet skyrocketed, extracts are not to be underestimated. 

There’s a Lot More to Cannabis Than Just THC

The overwhelming majority love a strong strain. No two ways about it. But is the THC content the “be-all and end-all” when it comes to top-shelf weed?

No, not for us, anyway.

Indulging in a great bit of bud is a sensory experience. We don’t just smoke to get high (although we sometimes do). Most of us enjoy the experience and the flavors, the smells and the way weed makes us feel.

And, on top of that, there is the medicinal value that cannabis brings to patients suffering from a wildly huge range of conditions. Don’t forget the potential for therapeutic relief when choosing a strain, and maybe look into it a little further than just how much THC it can produce.

What Are the Risks of Using High THC Cannabis?

While scientific investigation has, so far, shown that both THC and CBD both offer a high safety profile, and that the risk of overdose is pretty much impossible (unless you eat your body weight in ridiculously strong edibles), there are still a couple of things to consider.

Consuming ‘high potency THC weed’ can be risky for people who have underlying mental health issues. It is known to increase the risk of panic attacks, paranoia, and the symptoms of schizophrenia in some people. Weed does not cause schizophrenia, but it does increase the risk in those who are predisposed to it.

High THC strains can also cause:

  • Changes in blood pressure

  • Racing heartbeat

  • Red eyes

  • Dry mouth

  • Impaired cognition and judgment

As long as you make smart choices, don’t over-indulge, and are aware of your own tolerance levels, there is little to fear from high THC strains.

References

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About Author
Author Photo Sam North

Sam North is a content writer passionate about everything cannabis. His journey in the industry began with hands-on experience, working multiple seasons on cannabis farms. During this period, he immersed... Read More

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About Author
Author Photo Sam North

Sam North is a content writer passionate about everything cannabis. His journey in the industry began with hands-on experience, working multiple seasons on cannabis farms. During this period, he immersed... Read More

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